Scotland

Transgender lives: Making the transition

Jo
Image caption Jo Clifford was described by newspapers as a "sex-swap playwright"

Transgender people are known to have existed in almost every society in the world throughout history yet in our society they have been made to feel ashamed, says Jo Clifford.

Jo, who spent most of her life as a man, is still hurt by the newspaper headlines describing her as a "sex swap playwright".

For a BBC Scotland radio documentary Transgender Lives, Jo talked to some of the thousands of trans people across Scotland about their experiences.


Alice Brown

Alice now lives an open and happy life as an IT consultant and complementary therapist in the Highlands.

But there was a lot of suffering before she got to this point.

She says she knew she was a girl from her earliest years but grew up in a society where the slightest hint of being a bit feminine marked you out as a "poof".

According to Alice, gender reassignment was not something she thought was possible in 1970 when she became an adult.

So instead she spent the 1970s as an "uber-male" while being a woman in private.

It was when she moved away from Edinburgh in the 1990s that she began to investigate changing gender.

She says: "I was very scared that I was going to lose my wife. We did marriage counselling and she said to me, 'you are killing the person I used to know'."

Then Alice had to tell her family.

She says: "We drove over to my mum and dad's. In fact, my wife drove because I was in such a nervous condition. My hands were shaking.

"It's the most nerve-racking and stressful thing I have ever had to do in my life.

"I was grateful that my wife actually told my parents that this is who I was and who I was going to be. I thought my dad was going to have a cardiac arrest. My mother was absolutely livid."

It was not just Alice's own family that were stunned by the move. Her sister-in-law told Alice's wife to choose between "us or it".

"My wife said 'if I have to choose, I'll choose her'."

Alice, who has now been transitioned for almost 17 years, says that over time many of the rifts have healed.


Jan Irvine

Jan Irvine still lives in the same east of Scotland mining town where she grew up.

She says that when she came out to her father at 15 "all hell broke loose" and she was forced to get on with her life as a man.

She married and had a son, telling her wife about her gender three years into her marriage.

Jan finally transitioned at the age of 48.

At the time, she was a traffic warden, working for the police.

As recently as 2002 a trans-gender traffic warden was a story that caused her to be hounded by paparazzi.

Jan says: "I was walking along the street and all of a sudden this reporter appeared and flashed his press card and said he knew who I was.

"He said I'd be better speak to him because if I didn't he'd just make it up. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a photographer with a long lens.

"At that time I just felt my knees collapsing underneath me. I knew it could happen but when it does happen it is like getting punched in the stomach."

Despite losing contact with her wife, son and grandchildren, and having to leave her job, Jan says transitioning was worth it as she can now look in the mirror and recognise who she is.

She has trained as a counsellor to help other trans people and speaks at colleges and university to educate and inform people.

Jan says: "One of the main groups I talk to is the beauty therapists and the hairdressers because they all come across transgender people.

"The idea is to speak to them so that when somebody walks in and they look different they are not like a rabbit in the headlights.

"They can just look at them and talk about ordinary things because at the end of the day I lead an ordinary life. Unusual but ordinary."


Amy Swift

Image caption Jo Clifford with Amy Swift

Amy is a 23-year-old in the early stages of her male to female transition.

She says she can't pinpoint the exact time she knew she was transgender but when she was in high school and saw the other girls developing differently to her she was incredibly jealous.

Before she came out at the age of 21 she could only dress as a woman at home.

When she did go outside as a woman she says she got abuse on almost every street and had things thrown at her.

She says: "When I first started, and I went into Asda and stuff, people would look at me as if I was some sort of sex offender.

"Parents moved their kids out of the way as if I was some sort of monster."

Amy is now studying drama at Fife College and has her own YouTube channel charting her transition.


Nicky Stones

Nicholas is a transgender man, who grew up as a girl in northern England but moved to Edinburgh several years ago.

He transitioned in the 1960s and is one of the oldest transgender people in the country.

He says: "For anyone, growing old can be a real challenge and problem.

"Of course being trans, that's just an extra problem because, for instance, if you have been on hormones for a lot of your life, if you have had any surgery, they can affect you."

He also worries about elderly care. Will the carers be trained to deal with the body of an elderly trans person sensitively? Will he have to deal with different carers finding out on every visit?

And then there is his mental health.

He says: "If I do get dementia, I hope that can be addressed by people that know me.

"It's a known fact that people with Alzheimer's or dementia quite often revert back to their childhood so in my case I might perhaps feel I am a girl again.

"Obviously that could cause confusion and embarrassment all round."

But in general, Nicky is optimistic about the future.

He says: "I am completely blown over sometimes when I meet, see or hear, and on the media too, all the young people who are non-binary.

"They don't worry so much about female/male.

"That's really quite positive.

"I'm hoping it is all heading the right way."

Transgender Lives in BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday 31 March at 13:32.

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